When Your CRM Is Working, Keep Working on It
Businesses are not geared toward tasks that have no defined stopping point. CRM implementations are often treated like other IT projects: once they're in place, the thinking stops. The users use it -- or don't -- and, over time, when enough of them complain sufficiently, the application is seen as outdated and in need of replacement. This thinking needs to change.
"It is a good thing to follow the first rule of holes: If you are in one, stop digging." It was only 1988 when this nugget of wisdom was first recorded, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs.
It's one of my favorites, because it has so many applications in the business world. Unfortunately, the glib so-and-so who first uttered this turn of phrase did not come up with the corollary to this saying, which would have been appropriate for CRM.
What we need is a saying for this: when you're succeeding, keep on doing what caused you to succeed in the first place. That doesn't lend itself to clever sayings because it's a lot more complicated, but when it comes to CRM it's true. Persistence is the only path to success.
However, persistence is a two-part thing. Part one is implementation and adoption: you need to get a strategy in place and a system up and running, then you need to get buy-in from your front-line users -- and you need to make sure that, once you get acceptable adoption, you continue to encourage it and evangelize to your employees about its benefits to them.
Part two is to continue revisiting the underpinning ideas of your CRM strategy, taking into account how customers are evolving, how your business needs are changing, and the features of your CRM technology that you're not using that could be brought into play. It's not a one-and-done scenario -- you have to be persistent in thinking about better ways to harness customer data.
Doing this is difficult. Businesses are not geared toward tasks that have no defined stopping point. CRM implementations are often treated like other IT projects: once they're in place, the thinking stops. The users use it (or don't), and, over time, when enough of them complain sufficiently, the application is seen as outdated and in need of replacement. A new application is selected, the organization suffers through implementation and adoption pains, and things are relatively good for another period of time.
This represents a loss of investment on the software, but also in a loss in training time, implementation costs and selling time. And the sad part is that, often, it was unnecessary -- the application seen as "outdated" wasn't -- it was the decision-makers' view of the application that had failed to keep up. The existing capabilities were present but forgotten in the application -- forgotten because the business had failed to continue thinking about evolving its usage of the application.
Stick to It
The same failure occurs around thinking about customer processes. The moment you have a process that keeps your customers satisfied is the moment you should start thinking about ways to improve upon that process. However, that finite, task-oriented way of looking at business activities often means that, once a process is established, it's off to the next task. That process is not revisited again until it's broken and causing pain in the organization.
This is why I call CRM a "discipline" -- it's an ongoing practice that requires attention and deliberate action. And it requires persistence -- persistence of practice and persistence of thought -- in order to be effective.
Who needs to be the one who keeps this practice? It would be convenient to say that it's the duty of an executive -- the VP of sales, the CIO, or someone in marketing -- but disciplines are rarely convenient. The real answer is that this discipline is really the responsibility of all the users. The front-line users have plenty of opinions, and plenty of practical ideas -- but most businesses lack a single point person to collect their input and use it to help evolve the CRM system to reflect users' needs. Managers need to communicate their goals as they evolve, and IT needs to play a role in enabling CRM technology to deliver responses to those needs.
You can see why this practice doesn't lend itself to pithy sayings -- it's complicated, unfolds over time and requires the alignment of many roles within the organization. Getting it right, however, can maximize your ROI in CRM technology -- and can greatly boost the value of your customer relationships, which is the real point of the discipline of CRM.